21st Feb, 2019
- Odisha's dried-fish industry is using formalin, a chemical which is considered carcinogenic and has other ill effects on humans.
- The state government has come up with new plans to take measures against the practice which will include punishing those who use formalin, awareness campaigns and introduction of new hygienic methods.
- Identification of Formalin is not new in India as similar adulterated samples were also detected in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Northeast markets last year.
What is Formalin and what are its uses?
- It is a colourless flammable chemical used in pressed wood products, fabrics, insulation materials. It is a dangerous and anti-decomposition agent.
- It is also used as fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant. In mortuaries, it is used as a preservative for bodies and organs.
What are the effects on health?
- Short term damages for formaldehyde are watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.
- Formaldehyde increases risk of leukemia, blood cancer and other lymphomas.
- International agency for research on cancer and US FDA both classify formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.
- Exposure to it causes irritation to mucous membrane like throat, respiratory tract causing sore throats, bronchitis and pneumonia.
- It can also cause allergic reaction.
- Formalin causes kidney and liver problems.
Why is fish laced with formalin?
- Fish is a highly perishable commodity. If it isn’t maintained at the proper temperature of 5 degree Celsius, it gets spoilt. To avoid that and increase its shelf life, the sellers now use chemicals such as formalin and ammonia.
- If the point of sale is far from the place of catch, formalin is used as a preservative. Meanwhile, ammonia is mixed with the water that is frozen to keep fish fresh.
How to identify fish laced with formalin?
- When formalin is used in a fish, the fish retains the red coloured gills. Red gills could be a false symbol of freshness. So, gauging the appearance of the fish as a whole is required.
- Fresh fish do not smell fishy. The fishy smell that is associated with seafood exists only in fish that have started to decay. Instead, fresh fish have the salty smell that is associated with clean seas.
- Interestingly, fish shop with flies should be preferred, because the flies can tell whether the fish have been contaminated.
It is a simple chemical compound made of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. All life forms – bacteria, plants, fish, animals and humans – naturally produce formaldehyde as part of cell metabolism.